Despite numerous other things being on my mind mind of late, not the least of which was Nero’s power grab, Payden’s pregnancy, and the lust spirit riding Rose like she was a two-bit whore, I still keep an eye toward one of my longer-term goals.
Melvin and I had long planned for Club Trinity to be a social hub not just for vampire society, but for other supernatural groups as well. Call it a supernatural melting pot, a peaceful way for supers to mix without leading to trouble. Melvin and I have gone to some trouble to secure certain things to help assure a calm atmosphere at the club.
Now with Nero’s arrival, it’s a little harder to keep the peace. That meant I needed to step up my game. As manager of the club, I felt it was my job to make sure the place remained successful and continued to grow toward the goals that Melvin and I had established. War with Nero or no war, that meant I could not afford to back-burner those goals.
To that end, I spoke with Arcasian. Originally the vampire assigned to help us identify vampires of import at Club Trinity, Nero’s arrival had displaced his sire Caspian, the former Master of Elysium. That meant Caspian was now at Club Trinity doing what he does best. And Arcasian? I suspected he was feeling more than a little overshadowed by his sire and master moving in on his job.
So I asked if he would be open to learning something new, something his sire couldn’t teach him, that would make him invaluable to Club Trinity. He tried not to sound overly excited about it, but I could see it in his eyes. He needed something of his own. I knew I had his attention, so I laid out my idea. It was just an idea at this point, mind you, but I needed to be sure Arcasian would go for it should the opportunity arise. When I suggested it may be possible for me to arrange for him to learn the who’s who among non-vampire supernaturals, he seemed eager. I couldn’t give him any promises, but now that I knew he was interested I could see if I could make this happen.
That was in part what led me to this sterile meeting room far from windows in the heart of the office building that housed Ashton, Inc. Sighing, I ran a nail along the polished wood surface of the over-large table. No gunk. They took care of this place then. A careful sniff told me the the only scent in this place was the gentle, vinegar-based detergent they used on the table and chairs. Of course if there had been blood to smell in this room, vinegar would have removed that, too.
A glance at my watch confirmed what I already knew. Cinder was a half hour late. When the door opened suddenly I had to fight to avoid looking startled.
“Cinder,” I said as I stood. I extended a hand. He shook it.
“Warren. Been a while.”
I nodded. The last time we worked closely together was over twenty years ago. Cinder still looked the same, though. So did I. He’d impressed me when his team had worked with us on a case close to my heart. Payden had been in serious trouble. Kidnapped, brainwashed, and used to sell a sort of macabre sex video, her fate might have been very unpleasant and very permanent. Shadowgate came through for us, though. For her. Later we worked on other cases, problems where supernaturals not related to vampire-kind caused problems for everyone, such as that time when the Upiri came to town. Messy business. I can only hope that my allies and I had managed to impress Cinder and his people, too.
Over the course of two decades since then, I’d maintained contact. We remained the Duke’s liaison’s to Shadowgate and dealt with minor things. This was the first time I’d made contact with Cinder that wasn’t directly related to a current, serious problem.
“I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me tonight.” That was about as far as I felt like going with niceties. I didn’t like having my time wasted and I suspected Cinder was the same, so after he grabbed a seat across from me, I took a moment to think about how to get to the heart of the matter.
Cinder shrugged easily and slouched in his chair comfortably. “It’s usually important when you call.”
I nodded. “Important this time, but less urgent. You’re probably aware that we’d always planned for Club Trinity to be a neutral place for supernaturals to go to mix. Maybe even blend with other supers.” I made it a question.
He shrugged. “Yeah. Seemed like a good idea. Tricky, though, keeping the peace.”
I nodded. “But a challenge I’ve always been willing to take on. There are… prickly members of vampire society, and those who stand on tradition in terms of etiquette and various fine points of our own, introverted little society. To that end we were able to have someone familiar with these political intricacies assigned to work at the club, to recognize elders and nobles and to inform my staff, myself, and Mr. Alucard of any matters of etiquette involved with handling them safely.”
I paused to see if Cinder was following and if he noticed where I was going with. I think he did, but he waited for me to continue. “Of course, that helps with just one part of the equation. If I want Trinity to be an attractive and safe place for supers other than vampires to go, I need to be able to recognize them and provide them the kinds of comforts they would expect.” I knew that a few supernaturals did already visit the club, especially certain werewolves, but I suspected they were the adventurous minority. “That means I need to find someone willing to come to the club and help us identify other supernaturals and educate us on what is expected.”
Cinder looked at me suspiciously. “You want someone to come out there and pinpoint every supernatural that might wander into your club?”
I shook my head quickly. “No, that’s not at all what I’m after. I’d need someone who respects privacy. I value and respect privacy. Whoever could do the spotting would have to know the supers well enough to know who wants to be noticed and who doesn’t, who’s likely to cause trouble, who isn’t, and who can tell me what I need to know in order to keep Trinity safe for everyone.”
Cinder sat back and looked at me hard. I kept my face as open and honest as I knew how. Finally, he said, “No one person knows all that. Each group has its own secrets. You’d have to have the expertise of several people and most don’t give a damn about money. I don’t think you can afford what they’d ask for in exchange for monopolizing their nights.”
I let disappointment show on my face, but I wasn’t quite done yet. I’d anticipated that. After an acceptable pause, looking as if I was trying to work something out, I asked slowly, “Would there be people willing to teach someone to do it? Someone trustworthy?”
Cinder looked thoughtful at that. He inclined his head a little, conceding it might work. “Maybe. It’s pretty valuable information. Again, I don’t think you or your little group could afford it.”
“Because they’d need favors and other things that vampires can’t provide.”
I wondered just what the hell that could be. I didn’t much care to be told I couldn’t do something, either.
Cinder held up a hand to stave off my temper. “Now don’t get upset. You wouldn’t give a mage a vial of your blood, would you?”
Surprised, I shook my head.
“And you wouldn’t give the Shadow Storm Pack Payden’s blood, would you?”
I stared at him. I had no idea what that was, but the word “pack” implied werewolves. Hell no I wouldn’t give a pack of wolves something that would let them track Payden down anywhere she might go. I shook my head more slowly.
Cinder continued. “I’m not saying that’s exactly what they’d ask for. But you’re asking for information that’s held pretty close to the chest of some of these groups. They’d consider it a pretty big deal, so they’ll be asking for something pretty big in exchange. You prepared to do that? Especially when the things they might ask for might be something you can’t provide yourself?”
I sighed. He had a point. “Damn,” I said softly. I don’t approve of swearing, but it slipped out.
“Now maybe there is something we can do. Maybe some young pups or novice mages or something looking to make a little extra cash. You could fill out job form and Ashton, Inc. might find someone to fit the role at a minimum. They might not be able to tell you everything you need to know, but it’s better than nothing, right?”
“Wait. What? What’s Ashton, Inc.?”
“The company that helps new, young, or down on their luck supers get a foothold in society. Get them a job, place to live, that sort of thing,” Cinder said. “Give them a chance at something human in their life. Help them stave off becoming a monster.”
“But… how did…”
“Ashton, Inc. is another side of Shadowgate, more or less. Not for mortals to know, but there you are.”
I nodded slowly. “I see. So you are saying put an ad out and maybe someone might fit partly what I’m looking for.” I wasn’t sure I wanted a some supernatural who might not even come to terms with what and who they were providing advice to me on how to treat other supernatural visitors at my club. Maybe better than nothing. Or maybe worse.
“Or Shadowgate takes care of the tab and we find a way for you to pay us back that you can live with.”
I thought about that. “How would you want me to repay you?”
“Before we get into that, I need to know a little bit about your man, the one that would be learning this stuff.”
I gave him the run-down on Arcasian along with assurances that Arcasian would be interested in this. He said he’d look into it and let me know.
But I didn’t want to end up owing some kind of open-ended favor to Shadowgate. “What’s this going to cost me?”
Cinder smiled at me. “Something you can afford. Shadowgate always has an eye out for a new agent.”
I stared at him.
“Someone trustworthy, willing to work for the common good of all supernaturals and mortals as well. One of your allies, perhaps. Of course, I have to run all this by some people first.”
I nodded a little numbly. I was trying to figure out who would take something like this on. What Cinder suggested meant this new agent would have to have loyalties tied to Shadowgate and their goals and that would have be go above and beyond loyalties to the Duke. It went without saying that loyalty to Shadowgate and its goals would have to override their own personal goals, too.
I reviewed my options, checking them off one by one. As I thought about it carefully, there were plenty of candidates. I thought about one of the wolves. Shayde was the most likely of them. She was used to leadership, was smart, and probably the most mature of them. She could pull it off. Payden might have been a good choice, but she would be a mother soon and that tended to change one’s priorities. As it should. Melvin? Logan? Each had their own agendas. Maybe they’d do it. Or maybe they’d chafe having to answer to someone, to work for someone else above them that wasn’t the Duke. Lilah? Garret? Ayita? Maybe. But each was either new to society or had been hiding in the shadows so long I couldn’t be sure they’d be able fill the role Shadowgate might have in mind.
I decided to check with Cinder. “What kind of agent are you talking about?”
“Agents usually bring something to the table. Something they are very good at, or maybe because they are close to something valuable. Problem solvers are most useful, of course.”
I had to admit most of my allies somehow managed to attract or create problems more often than solve them. Not entirely their fault, but there it was.
I mentally ticked off several other options. Nicolai and Paolo — fled the city when things got rough. Sonja left before things got rough and I knew she had her own agenda anyway. She’d never agree to work for someone else. My own Childe was with Sonja, so that ruled her out as well, though I’d be sorely tempted to throw that bitchy little bint under the Shadowgate truck any day. God forgive me, but it’s true.
Stephanie? Hell no. Rose? Possessed by a lust spirit, Rose is often not even in control of herself. They wouldn’t accept her.
I reviewed everyone I knew in my head again, carefully listing off pros and cons. Finally, I was left with just one option.
Cinder cleared his throat uncomfortably. I checked my watch. Damn. I’d been sitting there for twenty minutes. Vampires don’t breath unless we consciously remember to do it, and our hearts don’t beat. We don’t blink and we never itch. I had been still as a marble statue and completely unaware of the passage of time until I looked at my watch.
“Sorry,” I said. “But I think I have an answer to your offer. I know who might make the perfect agent.”
Cinder smiled. Now we could really begin to talk.